The family’s violent verbal push and pull with each other is genuinely funny, well written, and entertaining, but many of the scenes could do with some trimming.
Rue Mandar (SFJFF Review)
Following the death of their beloved family matriarch, two sisters (Sandrine Kiberlain and Emmanuelle Devos), their brother (Richard Berry), and their French-Jewish families gather in Paris to mourn their loss (each in their own way), annoy the living daylights out of each other, and blindly attempt to figure out just how in the hell they’re going to get on with their lives. The family dynamic is in a state of disarray, with each of the siblings’ significant others bearing the brunt of their festering frustrations. On top of it all, the siblings have inherited their mother’s cute, old-fashioned apartment on Rue Mandar (Mandar Street) in Paris’ swanky 2nd arrondissement, and they need to figure out whether to keep it in the family or give it away.
Family dramedies tend to veer into schematic territory in the hands of uninspired directors, but Idit Cebula’s (Deux Vies…Plus Une) Rue Mandar largely evades the trap due to an excellent cast and some crackling (sometimes overly verbose) writing. The film is hilariously caustic, with just the right touch of sentimentality, and thankfully avoids the overly saccharine, quirky cuteness that is so unappealing in countless American “family reunion” films like this. Cebula lets her characters get their hands (and mouths) dirty, which almost always makes a story more interesting.
The three leads give strong performances across the board, giving the material (which is great on its own) an extra oomph. Berry is a kvetching loudmouth who copes with his loss by remodeling his house, driving his wife insane. Devos plays a shitty therapist who also happens to be tightly-wound alcoholic mess. She cruelly proposes that the free-spirited Kiberlain’s migration from Paris to Israel several years ago may have contributed to their mother’s passing.
The family’s violent verbal push and pull with each other is genuinely funny, well written, and entertaining, but many of the scenes could do with some trimming. Sometimes the core of the scene gets lost in all the wordy rambling, which left me struggling to grasp how it all contributed to the larger story. The script could be leaner, more unpredictable and well balanced, but there’s a lot of good stuff buried beneath the untrimmed fat, and the good stuff is really, really funny: When Berry stubbornly refuses to allow his marriage counselor to probe him, his wife Aline (Emanuelle Bercot) smugly reminds him that he didn’t have a problem with his doctor sticking his finger up Berry’s asshole during a colonoscopy.
The sets—lots of tight corridors, little rooms filled with knick-knacks, and the deceased’s warmly nostalgic apartment—force the camera to capture the family in close proximity, which makes their chaotic get-togethers feel alive and spontaneous. I was reminded of a lot of my own family gatherings and Thanksgiving dinners and couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, this looks familiar.”
Rue Mandar isn’t going to win any awards for creativity or innovation in storytelling, but it introduces a bit of wickedness and morbidity into the family dramedy formula that gives it more resonance. Aside from a terrible sequence involving an old, horny building manager, there’s not a lot to dislike about the film. Cebula’s fashioned a funny, occasionally moving story that could be great, with some tweaking.